Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Check Out Bizarre Designs for the Original 'Star Trek' Enterprise by Matt Jeffries

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - by Maurice Mitchell 0

The most iconic spaceship ever created is the "USS Enterprise" NCC-1703. The man who designed it is the famous illustrator Matt Jeffries. But, he faced an interesting challenge. Creator Gene Roddenberry didn't really know what he wanted, but he knew what didn't want: A 1960s rocket ship. That meant no fins or cigar shape. How do you go from a list of no's to a practical design?

Here, in his own words, he explains his design process.

"In my approach to Star Trek I wanted to be as practical as possible," Jefferies says. "I could tell Gene was serious enough, but I really didn't know where to start. I knew the Enterprise was going to be on the cutting edge of the future, but essentially he gave me the job of finding a shape, and I didn't know what the shape looked like."

"Gene described the 100-150 man crew, outer space, fantastic, unheard-of speed, and that we didn't have to worry about gravity. He had emphasized that there were to be no fins, no wings, no smoke trails, no flames, no rocket.

"To show fantastic speed he was talking about on air, I knew we were just going to have flash cuts; you cannot sell speed by holding a vehicle, automobile, airplane, or whatever and moving the background. It just doesn't work; it's going to have to come from infinity to you or the other way. So I wanted to keep it very simple, but immediately identifiable - a shape that you could instantly pick out. 


"There was a lot of floundering going on because I didn't know where the hell we were going, and I had to start coming up with an envelope to work outside of. I did hundreds of sketches. Gene liked a piece of this and a piece of that and a piece of something else, so I tried to see what I could do with the pieces. I did have a lot of material from NASA on work that they were doing, and I was a member of the Aviation Space Writers' Association and active as a consultant with the Air Force Museum in Dayton, so I did have a source for a lot of what was being thought about.


"Over a period of about three weeks I was getting more frustrated all the time, but finally I came up with something I thought had possibilities.

"My thinking was, because of the ship's speed there had to be terrifically powerful engines. They might be dangerous to be around, so maybe we'd better put them out of the way somewhere, which would also make them what in aviation circles we call the QCU - quick change units - where you could easily take one off and put another on.



"Then for the hull, I didn't really want a saucer because of the term 'flying saucer,' and the best pressure vessel of course is a ball, so I started playing with that. But the bulk got in the way and the ball just didn't work. I flattened it out and I guess we wound up with a saucer! I did it in color on a black matt board, and by the time I finished I thought we really had something. I rushed down to the mill, and the boys did the dish and the lower hull out of balsa wood, and they said that as soon as the lathes were open they would do the engine pods. I said, 'No, just grab some birch dowel,' so we put it together and put a hook in the top with a string."



"When Gene and the NBC people came in - I think there were about eight of them - they did navigate to the color piece, and I said, 'Well, if you like that, how about the model,' and held it up. Gene took it by the string and immediately it flopped over, because the birch dowels were heavier! I had an awful time trying to unsell that.

"And, of course, when our first show hit the air and TV Guide came out, they ran a picture of the ship on the cover, upside down."

"I constantly had to fight anyone who wanted to put surface details on the thing,"

"I thought the atmosphere or lack of it out there in space might produce different colors, and this gave us a chance to be able to play light and to throw color on it."

"I wanted a very simple number that could be spotted quickly. You'd have to eliminate 3, 6, 8, and 9, so I just went for 1701, which incidentally and coincidentally, happens to be very close to the license number on my airplane - NC-17740. But I have never really stepped out and squashed the rumor that the number on the Enterprise came off my airplane."

More of Walter Matt Jefferies' work can be found at http://www.mattjefferies.com/

What do you think of the designs? Which is your favorite rejected design?

All images from "Designing The Starship Enterprise" - February 2000 Issue 10 Star Trek: The Magazine Copyright Of Paramount Pictures. " Archived from lcars.com

About the Author

Maurice Mitchell
Lover of science fiction and art.

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